She watched the cat pad across the road to where she sat in her window. He pushed his nose against the freezing glass, sniffing for the warmth that she kept on her side, behind the outside. It had been cold. The cat's fur stood on end and she fancied she could see traces of frost balancing over the tips of the black hairs. She imagined his whiskers hoary and weighed down by strips of icicles, shook away with an awkward but full of wisdom movement.
It had been cold, and the sky was the same colour as the ground beneath it, a faded whitewash that had turned grey in misuse. If it weren't for the verticality of lampposts stark black against the uniform grey, you wouldn't see where the boundaries of sky and land began. This idea fascinated her. Where, she would consider, lying by the draught in her window frame, looking horizontally against the land lying dead and flat in front of her, was the boundary of sky and earth? What if the horizon worked as a mirage. It wasn't a thought she felt capable of articulating. On one major level it didn't make sense. But there was something that tugged at her mind in these recent days of mono tone dullness. If there weren't the colour dividing the two spaces, what would we use as the boundary line? There was something in the angle of sky to her vision that explained it to her, but she was lost to say it in the required words.
For now, the cat crossed the boundary of sky and earth. You could tell by looking at the outline of his fur against the grey where the sky hung around him, the earth steady beneath his padded claws.
It couldn't harm to let him in. So she did. She opened the window and let in the black shape and a breeze of the grey into her own self-contained world, closing the window and the outside behind it.
The cat silently padded over the room and settled himself in the opposite corner to where she sat on the ledge, and started to wash himself, warming his body from the cold with his bright pink tongue.
It's ok, she thought. We cannot expect to be friends straight off. But something tugged in her. She had hoped for at least a hello.
She looked around her room and felt that the presence of the cat had added an inexplicable lightness to it. It was a bare room, she recognised that now. Before the cat had come in, she had accepted the emptiness, maybe not even accepted it, but merely not noticed it. Use is another nature, she thought to herself. So that you don't notice something until it becomes different.
Before the cat had arrived, the room had been a world away from the land outside it, yet its characteristics had nevertheless had little difference between them. If the world seemed to her to stretch out never-ending merging into the sky that coated the globe in a cradling, her room was pretty much the same. Sometimes she would lose the boundaries of the walls, and the floor would fall out endlessly until it was out of sight, at one with the horizon that was maybe arbitrary. The door stretched out of reach, and she would trace her arms over the wall in order to find it so that she could leave to go to her job. Her feet she would keep near the skirting board edges, and she would slide her body over the wall around her, until she could find the cracks in the smoothness to reach the door. When she opened it, she would close it again behind her as fast as she could, she didn't want the outside encroaching into her space.
Outside, she would feel herself merging into the grey landscape that enveloped her like the fog hanging heavy over the streetlights that tried to pierce the blanket around them. Her clothes, which she would pick so carefully to try and eliminate the aspects of invisibility she felt, would magically take on the appearance of dead overalls and her glossy hair would switch to lank blandness. No matter how much blue or green she painted over her eyelids, no matter how scarlet she coloured her lips, by the time she made it across the seemingly endless plain to reach the world, her face was pale, her features wiped clean. Around her stood out people who were vibrant and bright; as she faded. There was not enough space for her in the streets. The rest, they were bigger than she was, they took up the streets with loud motions and big voices, which allowed her only a corner of their world. They looked through her, but she could understand that in the most part. She was faded, she was grey, she was not to be seen. In the streets, that was where it was dangerous. It was best not to be visible. It was best to fade in.
It was with relief that she retreated back to her space. If its endlessness was sometimes frightening, sometimes lonely, sometimes out of reach, at least here she had space. There were no elbows to jut in to her here, forcing her to contract her body even smaller. Outside, her extremities would shrink inwards and grow inside her, to avoid the shoving of someone bright and big who couldn't see her small and pale. Here there was no one to force her to hide, here she could fill the air around her with no fear. Her clothes would gain their vibrancy, her face would fill with light and she could move with sweeping motions, and she knew that if she spoke her voice would be strong and proud.
The cat was here now though, and it changed the aspect of the room. The presence of another asserted the room's shape. That he would sit on the opposite corner from her, she reflected, gave the floor a boundary that had so often seemed absent before. The cat was a marker to the room just as he had been a marker against the sky and the ground when he had sniffed at her window.
Like her, the cat didn't speak. There was nothing to say to each other. But they had settled to live side by side in the room, aware and accepting of the other's body, without any need to confirm each other's presence.
They were happy together.
Then, slowly, she began to feel something growing in her breast. The sight of the cat washing himself in the morning gave her a warmth. The thought that when she returned from being a faceless figure in the busy streets he would be sleeping soundly in his corner made her quicken her step and gave a new sense of safety in her being back in her room. The sound of his soft purring as she slept lulled her heavy eyes in a new comfort. She looked forward to seeing the cat. Being away from him tugged at her. She was growing to need his presence in his space where before there had been the mere stretch of floor.
Tentatively she began to bring things home for the cat. A mouse head and a rabbit's foot. The cat would rarely accept these offerings in front of her, but they would always be moved when she next looked. His lack of responsiveness hit her in a manner she could not expect. A flame of anger would ignite briefly. The back of her head would tick with questions that she had never before felt the need to ask. Why did he not thank her? Why did he not bring her things? She was jealous of the space where he hoarded what she gave him. Those things belonged to him in a way that she didn't. The anger would always be followed with a new sensation of guilt, guilt that she expected too much, guilt that she was trying to force him to feel something intangible to both of them. After guilt would come the desolation. This too was new to her. She had never been lonely before. But now the cat was there, she was more alone than she could ever have predicted, imagined she could feel.
Her body became full of a need that had never been there before. It was all encompassing, it took over her whole being, shaking in her feet and clutching up her calves and thighs until it reached her breast and bred there, an insidious liquid spreading through her blood until she was just a bundle of want, an insatiable desperation. From her corner of the room, she imagined her hand stretching across the interminable space and taking the cat in her arms and holding his hot warm breathing body against hers. The room was endless again. She could never reach across it.
The cat sensed the need growing in her. To him, the room no longer seemed empty. It was filling up gradually, and faster and faster, until under it all he could barely breathe. Where before there had been space, where before he had stretched and purred in openness, now he was surrounded by a cloud that hung heavy above his fine domed head.
All that was left in the room was want. She had become a personification of want; he had become the object of want. It lay in every move they made. Where before they had lived side by side, now they watched in wait. Each motion the other made was noted and scrutinized.
Outside the room, the cold snap was coming to an end. She could feel it in the streets as she walked to work. If no one else saw her, the sun did. It crept into the back of her neck and attempted to illuminate her skin. It sensed the desire in her and tried to use it to brighten her face, to highlight the paint over her eyes and over her lips. It didn't help. The elbows still hit her and the faces still looked through her. The cat still refused to meet her eye. Instead he forced her into his corner and took up watch by the window. She had returned home to find him in her place. She knew this was not an approach. It was a request for her to move.
She understood. He was preparing to leave her.
The ground remained grey. But the definition between the sky and the earth was becoming sharper and sharper as the days passed. It began slowly, as the sun shook of its dead light and began to shine with a greater liveliness. The rays exuding from the sun licked a paintbrush over the blank canvas that had reflected the barren prairie beneath it, and started to offer a promise of colour in the atmosphere that refused to enter her room. The fog remained heavy there. The room, once a part of the earth and the sky that enveloped it, had become divorced from all the surrounding. The attraction of the space had gone.
She knew what the cat was waiting for. She knew when the sky was coloured blue he would leave her. She struggled and she grasped, but nothing could change the resolution scorched into his eyes. He would go, and she wouldn't need to feel lonely anymore.